A new season in Mudville

ArtSundaymudville-coverWhen baseball resumes in Moundville this year, it will do so after a 22-year rain delay.

In the intervening years, the town has reinvented itself around the rain. Homeowners have rigged giant sheets of plastic, like umbrellas, over their homes. Officials have constructed a series of canals around the town to siphon off water. Townsfolk have to go to the giant gymnasium if they want a rain-free place to exercise.

And the town itself has even earned a new nickname: Mudville.

The world is a whole lot cozier for Mudville’s creator, author Kurtis Scaletta. He sits on the couch of his living room with Torii, one of his five cats, meowing at him. Scaletta is eagerly awaiting the start of this year’s baseball season because it brings with it the release of Mudville, his first Young Adult novel.

“People are still excited about baseball in early spring, so that’s when baseball books tend to come out,” Scaletta says.

But Mudville has more than just baseball. The story centers around a pair of foster brothers, one a pitcher and the other a catcher, who share a close friendship but also a sibling rivalry. “I’m really interested in the relationship between a pitcher and a catcher,” Scaletta says. “That friendship is maybe the tightest friendship in sports.”

Roy, the catcher, narrates the story. He’s a very agreeable guy, Scaletta says—in contrast to his foster brother, Sturgis, the pitcher, who’s a bit more volatile. “But he has a lot more talent, too, so Roy really needs him,” Scaletta says.

During the big game against their arch-rival, Moundville’s team falls way behind early. Then the storm clouds move in. As the rain begins, a batter steps to the plate and manages to keep Moundville’s team alive by fouling off seventy pitches—and then the umpires call a rain delay.

“I like to think of it as a tall tale,” Scaletta says.

The story picks up when the rain lets up twenty-two years later and the big game has to resume. By that point, the kids of the original players have to step in where their parents left off.

“There’s a lot going on in the larger story,” Scaletta explains. “There’s baseball involved, but thee are also family dynamics, there’s history, there’s mystery. I hope it’s all inseparable.”

* * * * *

Like a lot of other writers, Scaletta had a few manuscripts under his belt before he finally sold Mudville.

His first novel, written in 1995 as his graduate thesis at the University of Maine, focused on a virtual reality similar to “Second Life.” “It was Second Life fifteen years before Second Life existed,” Scaletta says.

He has cooked up stories about a young girl whose editorial cartoons become a smash sensation; a circus elephant who lives on a dairy farm and teaches the cows there to dance, turning them into a roadside attraction; and a young girl who finds a book with her name, Samara, on the cover, which opens to fanciful adventures.

His follow-up to Mudville, Mamba Point, is currently working its way through Knopf’s editorial department toward a 2010 publication date. Inspired by his time living in Africa, Mamba Point features a boy who’s made a pet out of a black mamba, one of the world’s deadliest snakes.

“I’m basically a workaholic,” admits Scaletta, who tries to time his projects so that he’s actively writing one manuscript while another is at the editor’s. “There’s always something going on. I’m always busy.”

Mudville was the first of his manuscripts to work its way through the editorial process, and as a first-time author, Scaletta found the process rewarding. “I didn’t realize how much an editor becomes part of a book,” he says. “If Mudville had gone to a different house, with a different editor, it would be a somewhat different book. It’s like the producer of a record—an editor makes that same kind of stamp on a book, but unlike record producers, who have their name on the record, you can’t see the editor’s name on the book.”

Mudville began its journey to publication in 2004, when Scaletta first “jotted down some ideas” for the book. By 2005, he had a complete manuscript, which he then consigned to a desk drawer for a year. “I got married. I earned a [second] master’s degree. It was a busy year,” Scaletta says. “My wife’s the one who saved the book. She’s the one who encouraged me to pull it out of the drawer and whip it into shape.”

The “really thorough” revision that resulted took almost as much work as the original draft, Scaletta says. “I changed the tense to present tense from past tense. When you change every single verb in a book, that gets pretty intensive,” he says.

Mudville finally gets its call on February 24. It will be one of several baseball-related books to hit shelves around that time—which is when spring training gets under way for Major League Baseball.

“The competition is fierce,” says Scaletta. “Not only are there are dozens of baseball books coming out, there are even two other baseball books by Minneapolis authors coming out at the same time as mine. Even if I had the modest goal of being the best-selling author of a baseball book from Minneapolis, I could still be third.”

Those books, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane and Top of the Order by John Coy, come out February 24 and March 3, respectively. “Apparently you can’t spit in this town without hitting a YA baseball author,” Scaletta jokes.

But like the characters in Mudville—and like every baseball team preparing to start the upcoming season—Scaletta has high hopes for his own book. Perhaps, he says, Mudville will even end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame—in their bookstore, that is.

“Everyone has high hopes in the spring,” he says. “In a world where the Tampa Bay Rays can end up in the World Series, anything’s possible.”